Empowered Pasifika Women: Anamalia Su’esu’e

Something I’ve learned through this series is the amazing passion our women have for preserving our culture and passing it on to the next generation. One of those wonderful women is Anamalia Su’esu’e and here’s her story.

Empowered Through Cultural Preservation

Born and raised in Hawai’i to Su’esu’e and Lynda Su’esu’e, I’m the oldest of three girls. I’m forever grateful for the life my parents provided for us. My father came to Hawai’i in the 70s from Utulei, American Samoa. He later met my mother, an Italian/Polish woman from Long Island, New York, at Job Corps in Waimanalo. Fast forward some decades later and I’m now raising my two children near the places I grew up. I work with Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center, a Samoan community based nonprofit here in Hawai’i that offers Samoan language programs for families. I am also finishing my first year of the Psychology MA/PhD program at UH Mānoa. I’m in the Community, Cultural, and Developmental area and would like to explore Samoan identity development in diaspora. Growing up in a multicultural home in Hawai’i has surely shaped my research interests in graduate school. My goals are to develop and implement sustainable programs (maybe even some policies?) within our Samoan and Pasifika communities that support our Pasifika identity development. The way I see it: secure, supported identities = increased well-being.

What was the spark that started you on the path where you are today?

My parents have always been some of my biggest inspirations. When I was no older than five, my Dad told me I was going to be a doctor. He was always so sure that his girls would accomplish great things. I am thankful for the value my parents placed on education and their constant support. My children are probably the spark that led to my involvement in community-based programs. When I was pregnant with my second child, I felt this deep need to amp up my Samoan language learning. I was worried that if I didn’t start now we would lose our language altogether. I wanted my children to know WITHOUT A DOUBT that they are Samoan. This is their culture. I felt language was one of the best ways for them, and all of us, to strengthen those connections to culture. When I found Le Fetuao I felt a mix of emotions–nervous, relieved, excited, but perhaps more than any of these, ready. I was ready to begin this journey, not just for myself, but for my children and their future.

What is one thing that you think Pasifika can do to help our voices be heard more?

The role of women in our Pasifika history is that of leadership. Strength. Compassion. And such a deep love for their people. I think this role runs opposite to what many Western ideas of women are/were. Though it is challenging for Pasifika people to be heard in general in Western contexts, our Pasifika men may be able to navigate these spaces with a bit more ease. I think it is important that they continue to support and amplify our indigenous understandings of women while entering these spaces.

If a young Pasifika girl asked you, “Why is it important to empower other Pasifika women?” What would you tell her?

Life is about connections. Our connections with our families, communities, and all the other relationships we hold dear make life what it is. As Pasifika women, our Pasifika sisters share something with us that is rich, beautiful, deep. There is a love there, an understanding. And you know what? The more you think about this relationship between and among Pasifika women you’ll see it was there before us. That it goes beyond just any two or three people. Our ancestors shared in it and still hold this connection with us to this day.

Okay, this may be getting a little too deep but I swear I’d make it age appropriate. But the themes would generally stay the same lol

As a Pasifika leader, creative, advocate, etc. how do you find ways to uplift the voices of other Pasifika women?

I feel like the power of listening should not be overlooked. I learned this from my father. My Dad was a quiet man, but always knew the right thing to say and when to say it. I watched the way he would listen to others, even if he disagreed with them. The patience and care he had in his conversations always inspired me. I feel like listening is but one of the ways I can best uplift other Pasifika women. Listening to their stories, their ideas, their struggles. Of course, it wouldn’t stop there. By listening, I feel that we can really begin to pinpoint issues, teams, etc. and start to organize and implement change.

How important is it for Pasifika men to be a part of the conversation of uplifting our Pasifika women?

It is important that Pasifika men are a part of the work in uplifting Pasifika women. This is especially so in circles that may be easier for men to access than women. Just as the success of Pasifika women is shared among all, so is our hurt. Supporting our Pasifika women should be an automatic for our men—it’s for the good of us all.

Who is it that you look to as a role model?

My parents have been my life’s main role models. I also look to Pasifika community leaders and educators—Peta Alaimaleata, Dr. Mary Therese Perez Hattori, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Jamaica Osorio, Sia Figiel, Grace Teuila Taylor, Terisa Siagatonu

Where do you think the Pasifika community falls short when it comes to empowering our women? If we do at all.

This is somewhat painful for me to write, but it is important to note. I know this pain and confusion firsthand. We should empower our women and girls to feel safe and heard in matters concerning sexual abuse.

What song do you listen to that empowers you to keep going?

Brown Skin Girl – Beyonce; My Power – Beyonce; Tangaroa Whakamautai – Maisey Rika; Tempo – Lizzo;

What movie brings you inspiration?

Dear White People

What is a quote that you go to when needing encouragement?

“A malu i fale, e malu i fafo” – my father would use this proverb often. One of my favorites from my Hawai’i upbringing, “If can, can. If no can, no can (or Verna’s if you from Hilo lol)”.

What is your advice to Pasifika women who are on the journey to empowerment?

Breathe. Balance. It takes time. Honestly, I’ve come to realize a LOT of us out there are still figuring it out. So you got this. You come from a powerful, incredible lineage. You can do this.

I want to thank Anamalia for sharing her story with us. I also want to tell her how much we appreciate her passion for our culture and preservation of it. I hope to follow her lead to do the same with my future family. Much alofa to her and her family for the work they do!


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